Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Kuma Kōgen - Kuma Kōgen

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 28.
Temples: #44-45 (Daihōji, Iwayaji).
Distance: 25.7km (827.6km), time spent: 9:49.
Weather: Overcast with some rain in between, heavy rain later.


This was a day that I had been looking forward to for a long time. In another blog about the pilgrimage, I had read that this was the authors favorite path so far and that the views of the surrounding mountains and autumn foliage was simply stunning. Now it is too early to witness the fire of the autumn colours, but nevertheless, the words has given me some pretty high expectations. All the time on my walk up to Kuma Kōgen, I had therefore feared that the views would drown in the rain. In the morning however, there is a tiny hope that my fears may prove wrong, I can barely see the outline of the sun through the clouds above the mountains.

For a short moment there is a tiny hope that the weather will lift, view of the mountains from Kuma Kōgen, the sun visible as an outline through the clouds.

I saw farewell to Violaine, hoping to meet her again later, but there might not be much hope for that. She is leaving for Matsuyama and will stay one day ahead of me, even though we are both starting off from the same place and time today. There is a reason for that.

The sanmon or temple gate of temple #44, Daihōji.

From Kuma Kōgen the path heads further inland to Iwayaji (temple #45), before it makes a return trip to Kuma Kōgen. It therefore makes sense to leave your backpack at the place you are staying at in Kuma Kōgen before going to Iwayaji and back again. There are some alternatives to how you walk this section of the pilgrimage. A visit to Daihōji (temple #44) is the first thing on the plan, though there really is not any fixed order that you have to visit the temples in, so you could visit Iwayaji first if you want to. At the last part of the walk to Iwayaji, the trail goes in a loop, passing by the temple on the way before returning back to the same spot. Some walk just the fastest way to Iwayaji and then returning on the same way, but I want to walk around the loop before heading back to Kuma Kōgen on the Sembontōge-pass.

The Jūichimen Kannon Bosatsu statue at Daihōji.

The walk from Kuma Kōgen up to the firste temple of the day, the first in several days actually, is short but nice. Daihōji, Great Treasure Temple, is a lovely temple rooted in the foothills of the mountains enclosed on all sides by the forest. In the temple gate there is a gigantic pair of sandals made from straw ropes that are called waraji, which are remade every hundred years. I appear to be the first visitor to the temple of the day. And although I enjoy the views and sounds of other henros or visitors chanting or resiting the sutras, it is nice to be able to sit down and listen to the calm and quiet sounds of the temple alone.

Daihōji

Misty views from the forest path after Daihōji.

From Daihōji, I am being led up into the hills above the temple, where I quickly come to the conclusion that I can look long after any sun on the sky. Thankfully it does not rain. After walking over the Tōnomidō-pass, I come to the first place where there is any hope of views, which are nice, but I can imagine they are better when the foliage is burning with autumn. Coming down from the first mountain or hill towards Iwayaji, there is a short interlude on a road passing by some small hamlets.

The path between Daihōji and Iwayaji.

Considering the rainy days prior to this day, I feel lucky to be able to walk the lovely path heading up over the Hacchōzaka Slope in this weather. There has been some rain after I came down to the road, but nothing much to speak of. The walk on this part is beautiful, with views of the surrounding forests and mountains through the trees, with just a few places where I can see that there are people living. At the top of a small ridge, a boar is crossing over the path, someone told me that it is actually boars that are the most dangerous animals you can meet. I stamp my feet extra hard so as to warn it off my coming, if it does not already know. Nothing but quiet around me.

Fudō Myōō at Seriwari Zenjō.

If you walk to Iwayaji the other way, or by vehicle for that matter, you will miss out on this wonderful approach or entry to the temple. The path goes suddenly steep down past several Jizō-statues, with the sounds from the temple coming up from below. The occasional chime from the belltower being the most prominent. I let myself drift away on one of the many sideways taking me to small statues nestled underneath hanging cliffs, climbing on top of small outcrops for an encounter with another statue. They are literally everywhere. Then the fiery eyes of the Fudō Myōō statue at Seriwari Zenjō looks at me. I am the okunoin of Iwayaji. Here there is a path going up to the cliffs above between a very narrow passage, but it is barred off from entrance. Too bad.

Looking down at Iwayaji from the ledge in the cliffs above the hondo.

Iwayaji (#45), Rock Cave Temple, is another nansho-temple, meaning difficult place. With its location underneath the rocks and cliffs it is a marvellous temple. And far more busier than Daihōji was. Here Kōbō Daishi carved a Fudō Myōō statue inside a cave in the cliff, ensuring that the entire mountain needed to be worshipped in order to worship the statue. Only a line of dim light originating from the lanterns in the roof provides you with light when you walk inside the cave. Above the hondo you can climb up to a ledge in the cliff on a ladder, giving you an overview of the templegrounds. A multitude of Jizō-statues are stacked on the path down from the temple.

Iwayaji daishido.

Iwayji hondo.

On the way down from Iwayaji I come in talk with another henro, who tricks me into taking the old and now closed off henro path going alongside the river. Trees and bushes hangs low over the path, littered with dead leaves. At some point, I have to step over some fallen debris from the woods, but the path feels safe and it is fine walking next to the flowing river.

A lantern in the cave at Iwayaji.

There is an impressive number of Jizō-statues on the path down from Iwayaji.

Where a huge and unique rock formation called Furuiwaya Rock stands perched above the path, I sit down on a bench eating my lunch. Tall cliffs on both sides as the path makes it way on a scenic trail through the woods, passing by a shrine (Zentsūzenji) with the rocky formations as its closest neighbours. In the cliff another fiery Fudō Myōō stands glaring at me. A snake slithers across the wet floor of the path, obstructed by a twig lying on top of it. Then I am back at the junction where I left off earlier, contemplating going around again.

Walking on the closed-off path next to the river after Iwayaji.

Heading back on the same road I walked on earlier, the earlier occasional rain stops being occasional. And by the moment I am at the place where the path over the Sembontōge-pass leaves the small road, I wonder if it is such a good idea to walk over that pass. There is a grey wall looking to come my way, bringing with it rain aplenty. I venture up anyway, with the surface soon turning wet and soggy to walk on. At one stretch, a line of empty beer cans are hung up, forming a weird sort of fence. In the guidebook there is a warning that it is easy to get lost at one point after having passed over Sembontōge. And it is easy to see why, as there appear to be some lumbering done here, not to mention that the posts trying to tell you where to go are confusing. I find the correct way, luckily, and now in heavy rain can continue down towards Kuma Kōgen. Did I dislike the walk over the pass? No, it was both cool and mysterious, but wet.

Zentsūzenji shrine near Furuiwaya Rock with a Fudō Myōō statue in the cliffs behind.

The sky is so dark when I walk into Kuma Kōgen again, suddenly standing face to face with Osata again, not expecting to see him again. Although I have taken the place of Violaine and he mine, I am now one day ahead of him. It was good to see him again. I also bump into a young German couple who also visited the same temples as I did today. Originally I had wanted to retrieve my backpack and walk some further afterwards, but I find no motivation for doing that in this downpour. My backpack stands where I left it at Omogo Ryokan, but there is no sight of the landlady. I get a room at the Petit Hotel instead.

A fence of beer cans guides you up on the path towards the Sembontōge-pass.

Sembontōge-pass.

This is the fifth consecutive day where it has been raining at one point during the day, I am starting to grow a little bit tired of it. Ehime sounds more and more like Ame (the Japanese word for rain) in my mind. The good sideeffect of this is that I appreciate the evenings after the walk even more. Today eating a good tonkatsu dinner at the restaurant, before relaxing at my room while listening to the rain outside the window. I should not complain though, the majority of the rain came at the last part of the walk today. It was a great walk, although having walked about 26km today, I have not come any further from Kuma Kōgen at all, I am back where I started.

Descent through rain from the Sembontōge-pass to Kuma Kōgen.

<- Kuma KōgenIshiteji ->

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